The Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the Lammergeier, is a large solitary bird that inhabits mainly mountainous regions. It differs from other vultures in that its head is fully feathered.
Like other vultures it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals, but usually disdains the rotting meat and lives on a diet that is 90% bone marrow. The Lammergeier can swallow whole bones up to the size of a lamb’s femur and its powerful digestive system quickly dissolves even large pieces.
The Lammergeier has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them up to a height and then dropping them onto rocks below, smashing them into smaller pieces and exposing the nutritious marrow.
This learned skill requires extensive practice by immature birds and takes up to seven years to master.
Because of the Bearded Vultures’ small and declining population size, range contraction and the susceptibility to several threats in Lesotho and South Africa, it has been classified as “endangered” in the Southern African Red Data Book.
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